Both a guilty pleasure and a skilled work of transgression, this
“nunsploitation” movie from Mexico blends artful visuals with pure sleaze. It
has (as Psychotronic’s Michael Wedlon has pointed out) more blood, nudity
and screaming than just about any other movie I can think of, but was made with
1978’s ALUCARDA—released in the US and Europe under the titles SISTERS OF
SATAN, INNOCENTS FROM HELL and MARK OF THE DEVIL PART 3 (thought it’s not
a sequel)—is arguably the crowning masterpiece of the late Juan Lopez Moctezuma.
A former associate of Alejandro Jodorowski (he worked on the latter’s early
films FANDO AND LIS and EL TOPO), Moctezuma is best known for (in addition to
ALUCARDA) the surreal Poe adaptation
LA MANSION DE LA LOCURA (aka DR. TARR’S
TORTURE DUNGEON, 1972) and the perverse CARMILLA variation MARY, MARY, BLOODY
MARY (1976). Other Moctezuma films include the lame 1982 kidnapping thriller TO
KILL A STRANGER and a number of intriguing sounding titles from the late
eighties, which, sadly, were never released.
Moctezuma is often cited as Mexico’s finest fantasy filmmaker despite his
scant filmography. His best films, which include ALCURADA and LA MANSION DE LA
LOCURA, demonstrate a sensibility as defiantly individual as that of the
aforementioned Jodorowski. Needless to say, his films were not met with much
enthusiasm in their native land (Mexico’s is among the most heavily unionized
film industries on the planet), where they were dismissed as, alternately, too
arty and too exploitive.
Justine is a new recruit to a secluded nunnery. Her roommate is the
mysterious Alucarda, a mischievous young woman who leads her new friend on
several clandestine frolics through the countryside. It’s on one of these that
the two meet up with a strange traveling magician and his redheaded female
sidekick. He offers them some magical amulets; Justine is apprehensive but
Alucarda is fascinated. They’re called away from the man and his wares, but he
visits them again that night.
It turns out that the strange magician is in fact the Devil Himself, who
leads Justine and Alucarda in a Satanic ritual culminating in a mass outdoor
orgy that inspires a rain of blood. A counter force is introduced in the form
of one of the convent’s Mother Superiors, who manages to put a halt to the orgy
through prayer so intense it causes her to levitate and the magician’s companion
to drop dead.
The next day Alucarda and Justine proclaim their allegiance to Satan in
front of the convent superiors. This results in an outrageous exorcism in which
Justine is stripped naked, tied to a cross and pierced repeatedly with a sharp
stick until she dies. Alucarda is set to undergo a similar treatment, but an
educated city doctor bursts in and calls a halt to the proceedings before the
event can occur.
From there things grow horrific in the extreme, as a nun designated to
watch over Justine’s corpse is found burned to death. Justine’s carcass is
nowhere in sight, but before anyone can worry about this the charred corpse
abruptly springs to life; luckily a quick thinking priest beheads it before it
can do much damage. Justine’s body is eventually discovered inside a blood
filled coffin by the Mother Superior who earlier stopped the nighttime orgy…and
has her neck bitten by the reanimated Justine for her efforts, from which the
poor woman quickly bleeds to death. The priests manage to put down Justine with
Holy water, but Alcurada witnesses the whole thing and embarks on a CARRIE-esque
psychic rampage, telepathically burning up everybody in sight—she’s eventually
vanquished, though, by a fiery crucifix.
Although the film is standard nunsploitation fodder in most respects (see
IMAGES IN A CONVENT, EXORCISM, BEHIND CONVENT WALLS, etc.), it has a probing
intelligence and eccentric sensibility you won’t find in too many nunsploiters.
Many of the film’s flaws can be blamed upon its exploitation veneer (such as the
fact that the women all look like Playboy models rather than nuns), and the
borrowings from CARRIE and THE EXORCIST are hardly accidental, yet Moctezuma
still manages to bring much of his own to the film. The bizarre set design, for
one, which makes all the interiors look like rocky caves rather than manmade
buildings, topped off by an altar that stands before a wall decorated with a
multitude of stone figures in a surrealist dance. Most of the camera shots are
of the extremely wide (to the point of near-distortion) variety, which further
enhances the hallucinatory aura. Also notable is the unforgettable end credits
sequence, consisting of a freeze frame of a burning crucifix over which all
sound is expunged but for the roar of a crackling fire.
But, as the story and characters are nothing to shout
about, none of the film’s technical flourishes would mean much if Moctezuma
didn’t deliver in the gore department, and that he most certainly does. There’s
enough bloodletting to satisfy the most jaded gorehound, and LOTS of female
nudity. The acting isn’t bad either, particularly that of Tina Romero as
Alucarda, but if you haven’t figured it out already, the real “star” here is
behind the camera throughout.
ALUCARDA [aka ALUCARDA, LA HIJA DE
Director: Juan Lopez Moctezuma
Producer: Max Guefen, Juan Lopez Moctezuma, Eduardo Moreno
Screenplay: Juan Lopez Moctezuma, Alexis Arroyo
Cinematography: Xavier Cruz
Editor: Max Sanchez
Cast: Claudio Brook, David Silva, Tina Romero, Susana Kamini, Adriana Roel,
Martin LaSalle, Tine French, Lili Garza, Betty Catania, Manuel Donde